State Meet Standouts: Unsung Heroes Week 11

Video of the 5A boys race - Watch one of the winners, Dominic Noel, literally leave it all on the course as he finishes

State Meet Standouts: Unsung Heroes Week 11

Just like that, the 2021 GHSA State Championship Meet is over, and the awards have been handed out! While this season felt like it was taking a long time at certain periods, the time between region and state seemed to fly by. However, there was no shortage of quick racing and great racing conditions on Friday and Saturday. There were some upset team and individual victories, some dominant performances, and a few close battles that literally came down to the final second. I'd like to give a shoutout to the Marist girls, who came just a few places away from scoring a sweep in the 4A girls state meet, tying the lowest score at a GHSA state meet with the 1999 AA Westminster girls. However, there were a few runners who saved their best running for last, coming out of nowhere to score as few points as possible for their teams. This week's winners and honorable mentions all finished in the top 20 of their state meets, and all massively exceeded expectations coming into the race. While it might be easy to overlook some of the runners who didn't finish in the top one or two, these performances will inspire runners in the future who hope to pull off a stunner at the state meet. Next to the placement in the performances below, I have written the "seed" that the runner held by season PR coming into the state meet, so you can see how much these runners improved at state. With that out of the way, here are the final Unsung Heroes for 2021!

Boys Winners

Liam Corbally, Atlanta Classical (1A Public): 18:25 at GHSA Class 1A Public State, 3rd (11)

Atlanta Classical came into the state meet as top-10 contenders, but any chances of making serious noise evaporated when their top runner all season, Guy Mastrion, either didn't run or didn't finish the race. While that's unfortunate, their #2 runner Liam Corbally stepped up big time. After finishing sixth in his region meet with a season PR of 18:20, the junior came through at state for the Cavaliers, finishing in third and besting many of the pre-race top 10 favorites by a wide margin in the process. Not bad for someone who came into the season with just a 19:18 PR! With both Mastrion and Corbally returning next year, Atlanta Classical could be a team to watch if they build some depth. 

Dominic Noel, St. Pius X (5A): 17:12 at GHSA Class 5A State, 17th (63)

Noel had been the fifth man for the Golden Lions all season long, and he had a solid season with several races below 17:20. However, his PR of 17:12 came in mid-September, and he had run his best times at fast courses in Warpath, Great American, and Coach Wood, and he did not run at all at region. So how did he do at state? Noel blew away even the most optimistic expectations by matching his PR of 17:12, finishing in 17th place in the 5A meet as the fourth finisher for Pius. While it wasn't quite enough to pull his team to a fourth straight title, Noel left it all on the course, and he still has two more seasons to build upon this great performance. 

Caden Hall, Parkview (7A): 16:17 at GHSA Class 7A State, 4th (29)

Despite finishing in the top 10 at the state meet last year, Hall did not come into this year's meet as a favorite to finish on the podium. Throughout the first few months of the season, Hall stayed steady in the mid-16s range. Now it's clear that he was just saving his best for last, as Hall first ran a season best of 16:24 at Coach Wood, then followed that up with a Region 4-7A title. For his next act, Hall shocked the field in the 7A race, beating several people with season PRs more than 30 seconds faster than his own with a new season best of 16:17. He stayed patient throughout the race and dominated the second half of the course. This was a dream final state race for the Parkview senior, and it will be interesting to see whether he's found another gear that he can reach either in the Meet of Champions or in track season.

Boys Honorable Mention

JT Gard, Savannah Christian Prep (1A Private): 17:37 at GHSA Class 1A Private State, 11th (23)

Parker Coy, Lovett (2A): 17:48 at GHSA Class 2A State, 14th (25)

Sam Wingfield, Morgan County (3A): 17:30 at GHSA Class 3A State, 9th (20)

Angel Garcia, Southeast Whitfield (4A): 17:30 at GHSA Class 4A State, 11th (28)

Noah Sybert, Richmond Hill (6A): 16:25 at GHSA Class 6A State, 4th (16)

Girls Winners

Farrah Frith ran the best race of her season at state. Photo by Marc Logan

Farrah Frith, Milton (7A): 19:40 at GHSA Class 7A State, 4th (23)

Thought that Caden Hall was the most surprising 4th-place finisher at the 7A state championships? That might not be the case thanks to Frith's fantastic performance at Carrollton last weekend. She is the definition of an unsung hero, as she rapidly improved from last season's 64th-place finish at state. Frith set a lifetime PR in the first race of 2021 and didn't look back from there, finishing in the top 10 of races more often than not and lowering her PR three more times after that first race. However, a 19:29 at region was still only good enough for fourth place in Region 5-7A. The state meet is a much different beast than region, however, and Frith unexpectedly rose to the top, running a 19:40 to finish fourth among 13 runners breaking 20:00. How impressive was the Milton junior? Well, she finished more than 50 seconds ahead of the Region 5-7A champion, Roswell's Elizabeth Stamey, who still had a pretty good race at 27th place. 

Elizabeth Cowley, Brookstone (1A Private): 20:33 at GHSA Class 1A Private State, 6th (17)

It's incredibly difficult to run a season best at the Carrollton course. Just ask Cowley, who ran a 22:16 at the Carrollton Orthopaedic Invitational back in September. The Brookstone sophomore flew under the radar for most of the season, but she was able to cruise to a victory at Region 4-1A Private. She didn't cruise at the state meet, however, running her fastest time of the season (and second fastest ever) in the 1A Private race. She finished sixth in a blistering time of 20:33. If 2019 champ Kiley Murphy returns at full strength next year, Brookstone will have a 1-2 punch that can match anyone. 

Sadie Watson, Flowery Branch (4A): 21:12 at GHSA Class 4A State, 11th (26)

Watson, just like Corbally above, finished sixth at region a mere two weeks before state. Region 8-4A was a pretty fast course, and Watson ran a respectable time of 21:06. She finished third among runners from her region at state with a furious finishing kick. This was a case of race strategy working to perfection, as Watson finished at the front of a pack of five runners in four seconds. It was the perfect sendoff race for the senior, as Flowery Branch clinched a podium spot most thanks to the strength of their top two runners. 

Girls Honorable Mention

Alison Markham, Towns County (1A Public): 22:33 at GHSA Class 1A Public State, 7th (16)

Katherine Aide, Lovett (2A): 21:46 at GHSA Class 2A State, 18th (31)

Elle Harward-Grant, Savannah Arts (3A): 21:33 at GHSA Class 3A State, 12th (32)

Hannah Schemmel, St. Pius X (5A): 19:24 at GHSA Class 5A State, 3rd (N/A - State was Debut)

Hailey Bradley, Lassiter (6A): 20:11 at GHSA Class 6A State, 11th (30)